September 28, 2009
Gaelle Faure from Time writes:
Treating heroin addicts by giving them heroin might seem counterintuitive. But for some of the most hardened addicts, administering heroin in supervised clinics may just do the trick where detox and methadone have failed.
Following the lead of Switzerland and a handful of other countries, Britain recently concluded a four-year trial in which longtime addicts were given daily heroin injections as part of a treatment program to eventually wean them off the drug. Now, with results showing the trial succeeded in reducing street-drug use and crime among participants, Britain could soon become only the second country in Europe to institutionalize the program. That would mean permanent, state-funded heroin clinics would be set up across the country to treat the most heavily addicted people.
Though the methods have been controversial, the resulsts have been encouraging: Street-drug use among participants fell 75% in six months.
August 30, 2009
According to The Economist, the evidence from Portugal since 2001 shows that decriminalizing drug use and possession has “benefits and no harmful side-effects”:
Officials believe that, by lifting fears of prosecution, the policy has encouraged addicts to seek treatment. This bears out their view that criminal sanctions are not the best answer. “Before decriminalisation, addicts were afraid to seek treatment because they feared they would be denounced to the police and arrested,” says Manuel Cardoso, deputy director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Portugal’s main drugs-prevention and drugs-policy agency. “Now they know they will be treated as patients with a problem and not stigmatised as criminals.”
The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programmes has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use). Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%. For most other drugs, the figures have fallen: Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis. And most notably, heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups, according to Mr Cardoso.
The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17% now, he says, because the new law has facilitated treatment and harm-reduction programmes. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before. “We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”
Click here to read Part I.
August 16, 2009
Maia Szalavitz of Time writes,
Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled “coffee shops,” Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don’t enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal’s drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.
So did the policies work? Click here to read on. (Hint: “Five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.”)